If Minnesota Vikings fans are desperately searching for something to take solace from in the team’s meteoric rise and fall this season, from being the last unbeaten team in the NFL to a team that not only would be out of the wild card race at this point, but behind four teams (New York, Washington, Tampa by tie-breaker and, if they win tonight, Philadelphia) in the chase, it’s that they’ve saved some of their best for their best opponents.
Over the last two seasons, the Vikings have saved some of their best games – not all of them wins – for the games in which they were playing the top competition and, in many cases, viewed as an underdog.
What has made the 2016 season so frustrating for Minnesotans who bleed purple and gold is that they’ve beaten teams that many thought they might lose to, but lost to teams that many were convinced they would win – from Philly and Washington and three games against the Lions and Bears.
Dallas may well be the most formidable opponent the Vikings have played in Mike Zimmer’s tenure based on their 10-1 record that started 0-1 and has been 10-0 ever since.
But, when the Vikings have been a hard-sell to project as winners over the last couple of seasons, they’ve got the job done more times than not and, even in defeat, have been as impressive when going head to head with the best.
Check out the list of games that have helped carve part of the Zimmer legacy as the Vikings head coach.
Oct. 4, 2015 at Denver – The Vikings are prohibitive underdogs against Peyton Manning, Von Miller and the eventual Super Bowl champion. But they rally from a 10-point deficit to tie the game. Following a Brandon McManus field goal, the Vikings have the ball in Denver territory in the final minute with a chance to tie or win and a Teddy Bridgewater strip sack ends the comeback but earns Minnesota a respectful tip of the hat from the eventual champs.
Oct. 18, 2015 vs. Kansas City – The Chiefs were desperate for a win at TCF Bank Stadium. They were 0-5 heading into the Vikings’ first bank. They played them very close all day, but Minnesota came away with a 16-10 win. What makes that impressive? It was Kansas City’s last loss of the regular season and they have won 19 of the 22 regular season games they have played since.
Dec. 10, 2015 at Arizona – The Cardinals would finish 13-3 last season and were expected to roll the 8-4 on a Thursday night four days after being humbled by Seattle. Arizona won 23-20, but after a field goal by Chandler Catanzaro with 1:23 to play to break a 20-20 tie, the Vikings had the ball with a chance to win at the end. What made that impressive? The Vikings defense was without Linval Joseph, Anthony Barr, Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo. Terence Newman was forced to play safety because the Vikings didn’t have enough live bodies. But, they weren’t going to lay down.
Jan. 3, 2016 at Green Bay – The Vikings had won 10 of 15 games and, in most years, that should be enough to win a division. It wasn’t in the NFC North. The Vikings had to go to fabled Lambeau Field to earn a division title. The Vikings won 20-13, but the real story was that they never trailed and, heading into the fourth quarter, led 20-3 and closed out the win.
Jan. 10, 2016 vs. Seattle – The last game at the first bank was as cold as any Vikings postseason game in history. In the final seconds of a 10-9 loss, 47 of the 48 guys on the game-day roster felt they did their job well enough to win. ‘Nuff said.
Sept. 18, 2016 vs. Green Bay – The Vikings were christening U.S. Bank Stadium for games that count – Metallica fans had already sullied the new stadium smell. Nothing pretentious Packers fans would have loved more than to open the new stadium with a Vikings loss. Unlike previous matchups, Packers fans were paying ill-tempered scalper prices for a chance to take part in history. They saw history, just not what they wanted.
Sept. 25, 2016 at Carolina – The Panthers didn’t have the stink on them that they currently do at 4-7 as a floating corpse in the playoff hunt after a 15-1 season last year. At the time, their season-opening loss to Detroit was a hiccup (who’s hiccuping now in dab-style regularity?). The Panthers were going to put boots to butts against the Vikings. After too-early celebrations with a 10-point lead, Carolina took it on the chin, 22-10. The rest has been sad history – complete with tears.
Oct. 3, 2016 vs. New York Giants – The self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader In Sports arrived in flyover country from New York’s attic to give its own kudos to Zygi’s Ark – we needed a bigger boat. People think Sam Bradford throws short passes. Eli Manning introduced a national audience to the Monday Night Special – a throw five feet in front of the shoes of anyone with a number less than 60. Minnesota won 24-10 and the game wasn’t that close.
Those who are connoisseurs of the grape the Vikings serve up can make a legitimate case for winning all six games since the 5-0 start. They may have a point. To them, the Vikings should be 11-0.
They’re 6-5 and even the hardest of hard-core fans aren’t betting money even up that they’ll win on Thursday. Most willing to bet Dallas will give points along with their prediction and, depending how Texan they are, they’ll attach too many points to their confidence.
So have others. So has pretty much the rest of the country.
The only game in Zimmer’s tenure when the Vikings had a viable playoff contender opposing them that completely trucked Minnesota was a public humbling at the beaks of the Seahawks prior to last season’s playoff matchup.
Right now, Dallas fans are looking for 11. The Vikings are looking for seven.
Something has to give. Something will.